An Indiana Senate panel advanced a bill Monday that would set criteria for redrawing electoral districts. But the measure approved on an 8-0 vote falls far short of a comprehensive redistricting overhaul that good government groups have sought for years.
Senate Elections Committee Chairman Greg Walker acknowledged his bill was a "baby step," though the Columbus Republican said it still moves the conversation forward.
Indiana's legislative and congressional districts are currently drawn to favor Republicans. That's because the Legislature, which oversees the once-in-a-decade effort that comes after the census, is in GOP control. In the past, when Democrats had more power, the maps tilted in their favor.
That's problematic, according to advocates, who argue that such a process allows lawmakers to pick and choose their voters, rather than voters picking and choosing their elected officials. That can lead to voter apathy and a limited turnout on election day, according to advocates.
Walker's bill outlines a series of guidelines. Under the measure, districts should be drawn "to the extent possible" in ways that avoid splitting pockets of voters with common cultural, ethnic, political, or socio economic interests. They should also be drawn compactly and in ways that avoid splitting existing boundaries set by local governments.
There is, however, a provision that allows lawmakers to deviate from the standards when working on the maps, so long as an explanation is given.
Advocates also noted the measure still allows lawmakers to control the process, which they likened to baseball players calling their own games instead of umpires. They are pushing for an independent commission to handle that task.
"We hope there would be some neutral body that would develop the standards and review the maps," said Debbie Asberry of the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis.
A number of lawmakers support a larger overhaul of the redistricting process, including House Speaker Brian Bosma, an Indianapolis Republican. Bosma said he remembers what it was like to be in the minority.
Despite support from influential lawmakers, past legislation on the issue has failed to advance. Bosma said many GOP House members were elected as Republicans stormed to power and have never experienced being in the minority.
Still to be seen is how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on several redistricting cases from other states that it's currently considering. That will likely impact how Indiana proceeds.